Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Spain Part Three: Stepping Into History

The next day, we woke up, checked out, and hit the road (after buying a stack of maps at a bookstore - anyone who tells you "oh, you can drive through Spain with one general highway map" is a fucking liar.) Our first stop was the Mountain of Montserrat, not in the Caribbean but a little to the west of Barcelona. Montserrat is home to a mountaintop monastery - I looked for the ninja master who would teach me skills, but he was absent - and has been a pilgrimage destination for residents for more than a thousand years. And looking at the pictures, it's not hard to see why. The countryside is amazing, the views are spectacular, and the monks make a mean homemade cheese.

You can get to the top of the mountain in one of three ways: by a tour bus (we didn't have one), a train (the option we took), or something called a "funicular," which is basically like the Skyride at Cedar Point except at times you're dangling thousands of feet above the ground. I argue that "funicular" doesn't sound very fun at all. Now imagine that in a Lewis Black voice, and you have one of the recurring jokes from our trip. Ah, memories.

So once you're up there, it's a great spot to go hiking, which we did. There are all kinds of little shrines around the mountains for pilgrims to go to, so we chose the easiest and pooped out halfway through. We'd make pretty shitty pilgrims: we rode to the top of the mountain, and while we were wheezing (keep in mind, this was the top of a mountain and we're not exactly used to thin air here in Seattle) and resting, two old women passed us on their trip back from the shrine. It made us look bad.

We still didn't finish the walk.

But we did drive on to the city of Tarragona, originally inhabited by Iberians (the peninsula's "original" inhabitants kind of), and then a Roman capital. And then a medieval town, and then a site of a battle against Napoleon. A historical place, so to speak. The center of town is still very medieval and surrounded by Iberian then Roman then Medieval-era walls (basically the same wall rebuilt several times.) We ditched the car, got a hostel room, and walked around and enjoyed ourselves. Most of the town turned out for a Saturday dinner in the central square (no cars allowed), and it was certainly memorable just sitting and relaxing and taking it all in. And noisy, as we found out the party pretty much went until the wee hours of the morning.

Next day, up and at 'em to check out the ruins. Tarragona still has a fair amount of Roman ruins left (see the pictures) and is unique among cities I've visited: buildings literally "grow" out of the walls and ruins. At one point, the Roman wall ends at a house, and then continues beyond it. If we'd kept walking, we'd be in someone's backyard. It's hard to get that kind of history in the US, and it's one of my favorite things about Europe: simply being surrounded by something so ancient. To be able to touch a stone and know that it was placed by a builder thousands of years ago.

I've also been reading a lot of Roman history lately, and while it's one thing to read a book about a site, it's something totally different to stand there and see it for yourself. Simply visualizing how a town looked based on a book description isn't the same as looking at it for yourself; sure you can see it, but you can smell the stones and taste the dust on your teeth. I almost wanted to find the bathroom and break out the shit-sponge.


But it was time to head for the coast, for a restful evening in small-town Spain before heading to Granada - home of the mighty Alhambra. It can be wonder of the world! Until next time!

Game of the Month Club (Kinda)

This actually came through an in-house email at my office: Kotaku is starting a video game club, similar to a book club - each month participants play a video game and then discuss its merits with other club members.

I want to start a video game club here on Kotaku that would work sort of like a book club. We'd select a video game each month and play through the game, meeting online to discuss our thoughts on it either after we complete it or, better still, at specific points through-out the game.

My hope is that it will get me and you and all gamers who participate to look beyond the graphics, the gameplay, the routine and perhaps think about games the way people think about a good book or a good movie. I want to do this because I think game developers deserve more than to hear that their game was kick-ass and has amazing graphics and is really super fun to play.

I think it's an awesome idea, and not just because I'm the kind of geek that could talk about video games all day long. It does help raise awareness of interactive storytelling as an artform, and there are a lot of games that I'd love to discuss with people on a more intellectual level. I also think it's a step beyond, as Brian mentioned in his post, video games as "better graphics, bigger explosions, more intense sound!" and all the other crap that's supposedly "next-gen." And I admit, working on the Xbox team, I was as guilty of promoting that aspect of games as anyone. But eye-bruising graphics and ear-bruising sound and intense action don't necessarily make a memorable game, so at the very least something like Crecente's club will open me to game possibilities I might not have considered before.

Option C: Give the Game Away, Get Money from Ads

Seth shot me this article yesterday from Wagner James Au at GigaOM regarding the financial success of Desktop Tower Defense. DTD was being passed around a few weeks ago, and while I tried it out and got fairly far, I didn't really even blog about it - even though it's one of the better Flash-based free games I've played.

The game itself is free, and very little was done in the way of promoting it - as the article explains. And yet, the creator is making four digits a month off the game alone. How? Click-throughs on advertising. The site got between 9 million and 20 million hits in April. There's been a lot of chatter lately about in-game advertising - when you play Crackdown, for example, there are billboards in the game advertising the latest Dodge cars (although you cannot actually drive and crash those cars in the game.) And of course the potential for in-game advertising to both set off the costs of development and make additional revenue.

But DTD took a different approach; the game is free and contained no ads, but the page on which it loaded offered a pretty standard Google ads module. It's certainly a different way to tap into the Long Tail than offering the game for a fee on Xbox Live or a similar service. I'm still unconvinced you could make a viable business model out of this - after all, there are sites that have been doing similar things for ages, like Yahoo games - but on a small scale like DTD, it's a great way for an indie developer to help finance his next project. As a Microstrategy, it's solid.

I'd love to see this experiment repeated, but possibly with more promotion efforts behind the game in the initial stages. It would be interesting to see if the results would be the same.

Blogging Habits

I've noticed a change in my blogging habits as of late - say, in the past six months. Before I used to use my blog as a kind of first-response sounding board. Which is to say, I would pretty much post my first reactions to whatever was on my mind. But in the last six months or so, I've tried to be far more thoughtful in my posts. I noticed that I've started planning them out in the shower (where I do my best thinking), or on the ride into work. I'm treating them more like mini-essays than "thoughts of the moment." Hopefully the extra planning has shown through as quality in my posts.

I started this blog almost four years ago at a suggestion from fellow Alliterate Jeff Grubb as a way to improve my writing - specifically through practice. I think I've succeeded in that regard, because my writing has certainly gotten stronger. Now I simply need to force myself to direct my output towards more creative kinds of things, and my novel should be done in no time.

Actually I hope to have an update on that soon. Stand by.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

In addition to cookouts, a 10-cent spike in gas prices and sales, Memorial Day is set aside to show gratitude for those who laid down their lives in defense of American freedoms. Perhaps in part because I just spent a good deal of time in a country that was a dictatorship three years before I was born, or maybe because I've started thinking about my novel again and this is one of the themes in it, but two words I'd never expect to hear in the United States are "military coup."

Military coups are probably the fastest and most effective ways to bring about a regime change, and can be bloodless if done properly (see: Russia). In many countries, the military is the only body that comes close to holding the power to repel large numbers of attackers. Even in the US, with our 2nd Amendment freedoms, a "citizen militia" would have a hard time standing up to even a small portion of the US army. We have the most advanced army in the world, and I can say that without an ounce of jingoism. It's a fact.

But I don't sit up at night wondering if some general will all of a sudden decide that Bush, or Clinton, or whomever our next president might be, is unworthy to lead the country and storm Washington and take over. It's something that's inconceivable, and it's only after thinking about Spain as an example that I've hit on a reason why. Or reasons.

Part of it, I think, is actually bureaucracy. My conservative friends are probably reading this and thinking I've cracked (or are hitting Michelle Malkin in their bookmarks menu), but an overwhelming bureaucracy makes taking control by force a far more difficult prospect then if government were smaller.

Another part is that our power, at least compared to some countries, is fairly decentralized - and by that, I mean states have a pretty large degree of autonomy. Sure, we rely quite a bit on the federal government for funding (some states more than others - and here's a surprise, blue states often pay more into the tax pool while red states take more out. True story.) But if necessary, Washington could stand on its own. And so could many states. Rhode Island might have some problems, but if necessary they could just become part of Massachusetts. My apologies to any Rhode Islanders or Massachusans reading the Puppet Show tonight.

And part of it too is the role our military plays. Ivory-tower liberal arguments about the military-industrial complex aside, my experience is that a good deal of American soldiers really do believe they are doing good and spreading the shining light of American democracy. Aside from a few movies (The Rock), I just don't see the American military overthrowing the President anytime soon.

And honestly, that's a good feeling. Say what you will, but I like the democracy we've established here. I had one of those moments driving back from getting my brother's birthday present today: I like America a whole lot, and it's not just because I live here. Sure, there's a lot of other places that are interesting and I'd like to visit. But I can't really think of many I'd want to live other than the place where the money is green(ish), I can play whatever video games I want, and make inane posts like this on the Internet from the comfort of my own home.

Maybe Canada, but that's a different story.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Spain Part Two: Barcelona and Language

The Sagrada Familia is far enough away from the rest of Barcelona's sites that it's a pretty long walk - or a very short cab or bus ride away. Normally I'd be all in favor of walking, especially in Europe where cities are typically compact enough to make it worthwhile, but because we were so pressed for time we decided to take a cab. At least we got to see how someone who wasn't lost got through the city.

Cabs in Spain were fantastically cheap compared to nearly every other city I've been to. They're all sanctioned by the government, and they work exactly the same no matter where you are - the fares can vary slightly, but the "Libre/Occupido" indicator is always in the same place, so you never have to guess what combination of lights means a cab is empty or full. It's a kind of consistency I can appreciate. And they're also, as I mentioned, really cheap. Fares ran about 4-5 Euros. Certainly worth saving a couple of hours when you don't have much time.

The Sagrada Familia is technically a temple. Right now, it's not a functioning religious building because it hasn't been finished yet. Conceived by Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudí as a symbol of the power of Christianity ("the last great sanctuary of Christendom" according to Wikipedia), when completed it will be taller than many cathedrals if not necessarily larger on the inside. As you can see in our pictures, work continues to this day - there were construction teams there when we toured the building.

The Sagrada Familia ("Sacred Family") will eventually have 12 towers, one for each apostle (it has 8 at the moment), 4 towers for each Evangelist, a tower for Mary, a tower for Joseph, and a massive center tower topped with a cross representing Jesus (here's a model of the final church.) The inside is currently pretty bare and many parts of the roof are still open, as the current construction projects are centered around strengthening the building to support the weight of the towers. Gaudí designed the building without the use of computers (obviously), but his original plans were destroyed in the 20s by anti-religious anarchists, so current architects have resorted to using computer-aided drafting to try to reconstruct Gaudí's plans.

The entire building, even unfinished, is one of the oddest and most beautiful religious structures I've ever seen. Its majesty is different from the medieval gothic cathedrals like Canterbury or renaissance cathedrals like St. Paul's. Gaudí used a unique architectural style that has been described as organic, and that's as good a word as any to encompass how the building feels. The curves on the facades and the towers remind me of stalagmites in a cave, or a giant building constructed by a race far less concerned with right angles than humans. The more I think about it, the more it reminds me of what I imagine some kind of odd Lovecraftian race might design if it suddenly got the notion to create a monument to Christianity.

Incidentally, if you ever find yourself in Barcelona with only a few hours to kill, I recommend the Sagrada Familia as the one thing you should certainly see.

After being awed by this unusual structure, we caught another (cheaper) cab to the top of Barcelona's main street, the Rambla. You don't necessarily have to speak Spanish to understand that a street called the Rambla is designed for, well, rambling - and that's exactly what it is. A wide pedestrian thoroughfare lined with booths (some selling the most unusual things I've ever seen in an outdoor market - rows of cages of pigeons being sold as pets. Pigeons: the winged garbage rats of the sky. That's just one example.) We introduced ourselves to the delights of sitting outside at 2 in the afternoon and eating a late lunch - every meal in Spain is late really - and then slowly rambling along afterwards.

It was somewhere around this time that I really began to be aware of being in a country where I understood very little of what was going on around me. Liz did an excellent job acting as an interpreter, but even when I was in Germany I at least had some kind of clue. Here, without Liz to tell me what was going on, I was utterly lost.

It's funny how much language is something that's taken for granted. It's how I imagine someone who's illiterate would feel in a library - surrounded by things that most certainly mean something and are trying to communicate, but unable to understand the message. It's how I feel when I'm in a modern art museum - I recognize that there is indeed an order to what's going on around me, there is something being communicated, but I'll be goddamned if I know what it is. I can honestly say that I never really freaked out about it, and Liz really tried to help when I felt especially lost. It's a hell of a thing being in a place where you can't understand what's going on. There's always pantomiming of course, and the old "point and grunt" interface, but you still feel lost and sometimes a little scared. How do you know you're not being taken advantage of, being the Gringo Turismo? It's enough to make or break a case of paranoia or OCD.

After our ramble down the Rambla, we hit Barcelona's gothic cathedral, which was everything the Sagrada Familia wasn't - traditional, big, open, and a bit of a disappointment. I love cathedrals - religious structures of all kinds hold a fascination for me, but the medieval structures that people built to create earthly sanctuaries for their faith are unique in many ways - the design of them in a time when most people were living in tiny hovels, the epic scale so much larger than anything else around them, the investment of time where those who began a project knew it would be finished by their grandchildren's grandchildren. It takes a certain degree of faith to even dream of such a thing, and it's even more compelling when you see how many of these structures there are all over Western Europe.

But this one still felt bland. It was something I'd seen before. In fact, I felt that about most of the cathedrals we saw on our trip - large gothic churches. None of them held the magic or awe of my first trip to Canterbury in 1999, when I walked in and the organ was going and the boy's choir was singing and I was literally reduced in size and stature by a building and its activities (OK, I ended up getting teary-eyed and had to kneel. Maybe it's a Catholic response.) But that never happened here.

In fact, the archaeological museum right behind the Cathedral was more interesting. After touring some Roman-era artifacts, it takes you into the basement where you quite literally walk through the excavation of several blocks of the old Roman town, from the walls to a fish oil factory (yum!) to a winery to houses, and a Visigothic-era church and palace. It was my first tangible experience with the vast ancient history of Spain, and it was the perfect setup for the next stage of our trip: driving into the countryside, stopping at Tarragona (an old Roman capital and port city), and seeing the kinds of ruins I'd only read about in books.

How's that for a setup for next time?

Friday, May 25, 2007


I've posted about trolling before, but this article from Information Week about combating trolls is pretty good (article received from a co-worker.) It's not so much a single solution as a survey of solutions that keep sites (or rather, users) honest, from Digg to Making Light. There's no single quotable element, but the whole thing is worth a read to those interested.

Spain Part One: Overview and Arrival

Spain was Liz's idea. I don't mean that in a "well, this was your idea!" kind of way, but in a "huh, I never thought about going there but that sounds cool" kind of way. Understand that our vacations tend to be a few days long at best, and we tend to either go camping, go visit friends or family, or some combination of those two things, so two weeks to ourselves was a novel idea. OK - it sounded like Paradise. She could have said "let's go to Rwanda" and it still would have been cool.

But Spain as a country really hasn't ever been on my radar. The extent of my knowledge of the language include counting to ten (thank you, Sesame Street), asking for the bathroom (thank you, Refreshments) and asking for a beer (thank you again, Refreshments.) I vaguely knew its history and role in the Roman empire, and I read some of Hemingway's books set there, but otherwise I didn't really even know the country's geography. Barcelona? Madrid? Without a map, I was helpless. But that's the kind of travel experience I like - going to an unexpected place and finding something unexpectedly awesome. And if there's one phrase that sums up the entire trip, it's that - unexpectedly awesome.

Spain also has the distinction of being Europe's last fascist dictatorship. I knew of Barcelona from the 1992 Olympics of course, but a scant 17 years before that - three years before I was born, in 1975 - Spain was as fascist as Nazi Germany (or, perhaps a little more appropriately, as fascist as Mussolini's Italy.) Spain sat out of World War II because it was in the middle of its own Civil War, an extremely bloody conflict where entire villages were being slaughtered by both sides, Republicans (the democratic current government) and the Nationalists (the fascists under Franco.) Franco eventually won, with Madrid the last city to fall, around 1936 or so, although pockets of resistance both democratic and Communist continued to hold out into the 40s (and the Basque separatists in the north carried out terror attacks long after.)

After Franco's death, democracy was restored by Spain's King (they have a royal family kind of like Britain, and while the King was ostensibly Franco's puppet he obviously had some liberal democratic ideals) and Spain has since voted in both conservative governments and more liberal, socialist governments, most notably in 2003 to remove the pro-Bush PP party from power and end Spain's involvement in the Iraq war. Oddly enough, while I saw a little anti-Bush graffiti, there was none of the anti-Americanism I saw in both London and Italy during the 1999 Bosnia conflict; I saw more Anarchist and Neo-Nazi graffiti than anything else. Go figure. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, we were largely ignored as Americans - when people realized we spoke English, they tended to assume we were from the UK (likely due to the large number of British retirees in Spain.)

So Liz and I bought some travel books, made arrangements to fly into Barcelona and out of Madrid, and decided to rent a car to see the countryside. Spain is probably as car-friendly as Europe gets (which is to say you'll still die of sheer terror driving there and get lost a lot), so this seemed like a dandy plan. We worked pretty much up to the point where we got on the plane, and flew out on the 9th. A long overnight plane ride, a dozen episodes of "Heroes," and some shitty airline food later, and we were in Barcelona ready to conquer the country.

We packed our stuff into a Dodge rental car I'd never heard of, got some vague directions to our hotel on the opposite side of the city, and promptly got lost. In fact we spend the next several hours lost and trying to find our way around, Liz taking a crash course in "let's remember how to say 'but show me on the map where we are right now' in Spanish" and trying not to cause too much destruction. Liz managed to misplace her glasses (which is why, as you'll see, she's wearing her sunglasses in a lot of the pictures from the trip. Good times.) We eventually found the hotel and checked in, and the jetlag caught up to us. The worst thing we could have done was sleep at two in the afternoon (if only we realized about the Siesta!), so we wandered the neighborhood looking for a supermarket, stocked up on food and bottled water, and wandered some more.

Our hotel was right across from the Mediterranean beach. It was still a little chilly, so we didn't put on the bathing suits, but we walked for a while and just enjoyed the fresh air. Like all European cities, Barcelona is made for walking. It's only in retrospect that I had anything in Spain to compare Barcelona with, but it truly is a beautiful city. It's extremely clean (I noticed this, but didn't know how it compared to other cities of size like Madrid), very well maintained, and there's obviously a good deal of money floating around. It has an air of life about it without the sometimes sinister edge you find in other large cities (say, Madrid where someone almost stole Liz's backpack). It's really modern. It reminded me a lot of, say, Phoenix if Phoenix were on the ocean somewhere.

That night it took very little to put us to sleep. I think dinner was a loaf of bread and a little lunchmeat, and we went down like we'd been double-teamed by Ali and Foreman. The next morning, while Liz slumbered, I pulled out the Rough Guide and started making a plan of the things we would see in our last day in Barcelona (suggestion: spend more than two nights in Barcelona, especially if one of those nights is after you get off a plane and you spend the day wandering around lost.) At Crabby's suggestion, the first place we'd stop was the Sagrada Familia - Gaudi's architectural masterpiece and the most unique church/cathedral (it's actually a temple) I've ever seen.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Where's Jason? Former Roman Empire Edition

So you may have noticed the relative lack of posts in the last couple of weeks, and the sudden glut of them at a very unusual - possibly jetlagged - hour early this morning.

I just returned from a two-week trip to Spain with my wife. A two-week vacation. Who knew such things existed?

There will be pictures and posts galore soon.

Seven Random Facts Meme

I have been tagged by Jeff with a seven random facts meme, and I will be tagging seven others at the end of my post. I'll try to make my seven facts good. I'm sure I've mentioned some of these before.

1. I have a soft spot for country music. If I'm the only one in the car, and I know I'll be the only one in the car for a while, inevitably I'll put on the country station if I don't have my iPod.
2. In the last two and a half years of concentrated weight loss, I have dropped 80 lbs. Conversely, when I graduated from high school 10 years ago, I weighed 80 lbs less than I do right now. I'll let you do the math on that.
3. I almost ended up with another degree, in religion. I just didn't want to stay in college another semester.
4. I hated the taste and effects of coffee until I started working at DHS, when I started to enjoy both.
5. I draw things to help me pay attention. In meetings, I tend to sit and doodle (and I'm a terrible artist), or simply draw geometric shapes. Someone once told me that people who do that use it as a means to help them remember things without writing them down, and it's true. If I haven't been drawing during a boring meeting, chances are I'll forget everything that was said within minutes (if I haven't been doing something else, like taking notes.)
6. I use my email inbox as a to-do list, and file every email that isn't on my to-do list in a specific folder. Whether this is good organizational skills or obsessive-compulsive behavior, I leave up to you to decide.
7. Once, I took a flying lesson. It was for an article I had been assigned to write for a local magazine. Someday, when I have nothing better to do with my time and money, I want to get my pilot's license. It was an exhilarating experience.

And now, my seven victims are:

and Liz.

I'll shoot you guys an email in a minute.

The South Park Movie

Alright you chuckleheads, I realized my last post wasn't as clear as I needed to be.

I loved the South Park movie. It was the Holy Grail of South Park. After that, everything has been a mere shadow on the wall of the South Park cave.

Make sense?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Summer Movies

28 Weeks Later.

Pirates 3.

I'm just not excited about Spiderman 3.

That's my list. Anyone got anything else I need to watch?

Oh yeah, and the Simpsons movie. But part of me doesn't want to go. After all, the South Park movie was the point where that series jumped the shark for me.

Of course, the Simpsons did it like seven seasons ago.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The Way I Game

I've been playing a lot of Oblivion lately (again) so I can mop up the last achievements for it, and a couple things have struck me about how the game works - or more appropriately, how responsive it is to me.

Doing the quests for the thief's guild, I had to (in game) steal 1000 gold worth of items. I have a feeling that I may have lost some of my readers with that statement, but if you're still there, this post was for you anyway.

So 1000 gold. In the game, you can accomplish this in any way as long as you're stealing and selling something. The most valuable things to steal are weapons and armor and such, but being me, I went a different path - I stole wine. And nothing but wine. No wine cellar in Cyrodil was safe.

But the game had no built-in mechanic to recognize my role-playing or decision-making. Not that I really expected one; I've been playing computer RPGs since Starflight, Might & Magic, and the Bard's Tale, so this isn't anything new. Part of the allure charm weakness of C-RPGs is that you kind of have to make up some of the roleplaying elements on your own - say, restricting yourself to stealing wine to complete a quest. Or making up a backstory for a hero who's really nothing more than numbers. In fact, I'll openly admit that I preferred Icewind Dale over Baldur's Gate for that reason. I liked playing with characters that I wrote a story for in my head, rather than run "my" character through some other character's background story.

But some games do have built in systems to recognize those kinds of decisions. Fallout 2 is the example that comes to mind. If a character kills a child, or robs a grave, or kills an entire town, he earns a special "perk" that makes other characters respond to him much differently.

Granted those are extreme examples, and are something that's likely within the framework of the game. And as I discussed with Seth a few days ago, it's just not feasible for game designers to adapt to every yahoo who decides "hey, I'll steal wine to complete this quest!"

But those kinds of adaptive game elements, especially in the so-called sandbox games, would certainly be awesome.

You know I mentioned Fallout 2 earlier, and Bethesda made Oblivion - and is working on Fallout 3. It's almost like there's a deeper meaning here.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

TV Alert

Tomorrow is the Jericho season finale, and CBS will be announcing whether the show will be renewed for a second season next week.

If you watch it, I'll be your friend!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Shred For Charity

Alright Seattle Guitar-Hero playing Puppeteers, there is absolutely no excuse for you not to go to the Guitar Heroes for Whiskers event, where you play Guitar Hero to help raise money for the Seattle Humane Society.

I will unfortunately have to miss this, but if you consider yourself a real man or woman, you'd better go and help raise money for doggies and kitties.

So say we all.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Online Dating, Circa 1994

Leah suggested this would make a funny topic for a blog post following a conversation this morning, and I agreed. So here we go.

The Internet, 1994. A place I connected to with a 14.4 modem plugged into my Packard Bell 386 with a 127MB hard drive. I had a 5.25 floppy and games to play with it (still do, somewhere.)

Actually I wasn't dialing into the Internet yet. That wouldn't come until 1996 or 1997. I was dialing into BBSes.

For those who don't remember, a BBS was basically the equivalent of a local website. Many of them offered a game or two, some email functionality, and newsgroups if they were sophisticated. They were run out of guys' homes (or businesses) with dedicated computer(s) and phone lines. The big ones in New York might have 20 or more computers networked together, on 20 phone lines; the biggest I ever dialed into had three connections, one of which was only 1200 baud.

While playing a game on one such BBS, I met a girl who attended a local high school. Not my school, so I'd never met her. Had no idea what she looked like, and aside from our common interests of liking BBSes and Legend of the Red Dragon, I knew next to nothing about her. Being a teenager and thinking myself somewhat suave, I got her number, called her a few times (she had a nice voice), and asked her out. And she agreed.

We saw a movie, met up for pizza a couple of times, and soon had to stop seeing each other since her dad was being transferred to another city (ah, the problems of youth.) And, as it turned out, so was my dad, so there you go. We both knew that going in, and both agreed to just enjoy whatever happened in those couple of months as it happened. Remarkably mature considering I was 16 at the time.

So that's my tale of Internet dating. I was doing it before it was cool, and frankly I would consider that experience far more positive than many of the stories I hear from my friends about it. So I guess you could say I retired undefeated from my career at Internet dating, found myself an awesome woman, and the rest is history.

I'd call that a win.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Digg Dugg, Part Deux

When I went to bed last night, Digg was in a state of lockdown - stories being deleted and users being banned. I woke up this morning none the wiser, and was planning on talking about Digg's reaction for a bit.

But then, around 9PM last night, Kevin Rose (Digg's owner) had a change of heart:

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

And I'm not really sure what to make of this. It still may be too early for proper analysis, so bear with me if I 180 on this in a couple of days.

Last night, I blogged about the beginning of the kerfluffle, and (in my near-brain-dead state) said that Digg's users were acting like "spoiled children" and wondered if the consequence of too much information is that "that we no longer exercise discretion in the sharing of it." And I still kind of agree with that. I'll be frank: I find Digg's primary user base to be biased and narcissistic. But that is the price of an experiment like Digg, which allows anyone to vote and comment on news stories. Hell, that's the price of any democracy: that the system can and likely will be co-opted by people who are short-sighted regarding the consequences of their actions, who are obsessed with their own personal agendas, and are not necessarily thinking of the survivability of the whole.

I intended to applaud Digg's discretion at cracking down on this story, because the owners of Digg need to exercise their own self-interest (IE, the survivability of the site.) But in retrospect, I think their decision to allow the hex code to be shared is in many ways more true to the spirit of the site they founded. Rose's blog post made clear that the consequences of this action could very well be that the site gets shut down, and if Digg users still want to vote the story with the hex code up, so be it.


There's the other aspect to this story - the information aspect. While Digg may be the focal point of this battle, a Google search for the key (not linked here - I refuse to be a part of this "revolt," even though I may have quietly squirreled away a copy of the key on my thumbdrive) and it returns some 36,000 hits (source: BoingBoing) - as of 9AM PST on May 2. And that number will only grow. The AACS is basically fucked here: the DeCSS DVD key shared circa 1999 was only of interest to a much smaller web-based community. Now, it's literally everywhere, and someone with a dial-up AOL account can have it in seconds (even if they wouldn't know how to put it to use.)

It's simply not possible to put the genie back in the bottle at this point. The question becomes, and it's one I've asked before, at what point does responsibility and discretion kick in?

I don't have time for a proper thought experiment on this, so I'll simply ask the question and let it percolate.

Digg Dugg

I'm browsing through the SA Forums while watching some Futurama reruns, and I come across this thread about something on Digg.

Turns out that earlier today, someone cracked the HD-DVD encryption key. The one that was supposed to be super-secure so that movie studios could prevent piracy on HD-DVDs. And like DeCSS for DVDs, someone posted the key online. And it was on Digg. And then Digg removed the story, and banned the user who posted it for violating his terms of service.

And Digg, being a democratic website full of, well, Internet types, revolted. For the last several hours, all the top stories and many comments have included the key. Digg's blog posted an explanation. Any story not containing the key is being buried.

I've not always been impressed with Digg in the past, but witnessing its possible destruction at the hands of its own overly-self-important users is leaving a sour taste in my mouth. Despite its shortcomings, the theory behind Digg is certainly an honorable one. But its users are showing themselves to be little more than a bunch of spoiled children. And I cannot help but think:

Is this the consequence of too much information, that we no longer exercise discretion in the sharing of it?